National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science, Part 13 This Week: Gay Sensibility & Constructive Non-Conformity

With last month’s historic repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the online Box Turtle Bulletin’s Timothy Kinkaid wrote a commentary entitled, “Trading in Our Sparkle and Our Freak.” His concern is for the pressure that advances in equality put on homosexuals to conform to dominant social expectations and norms. Are we running the risk of becoming “just like them?”

With last month’s historic repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the online Box Turtle Bulletin’s Timothy Kinkaid wrote a commentary entitled, “Trading in Our Sparkle and Our Freak.”

His concern is for the pressure that advances in equality put on homosexuals to conform to dominant social expectations and norms. Are we running the risk of becoming “just like them?”

Surely, the pressure to conform exists for everyone in society, straight or gay, and gays have even more good reasons, apparently, to conform. The reasons range from keeping our orientation secret, to reassuring everyone we’re just like them except in the bedroom and therefore non-threatening, to enjoying a sense of security that derives from conformity, and to the unresolved, residual “post-traumatic stress syndrome” effects of the AIDS Dark Age.

But homosexuals are simply not wired for conformity.

All the empirical evidence suggests that homosexuality pertains to the whole psyche of the person, and not just to the narrow aspect associated with sexuality, per se. An often-profound sense of differences in childhood, tied to different interests and desires, are normative and amplified as erotic arousal manifests itself to present two related, naturally-generated realities for homosexuals.

The first I have described as “gay sensibility,” and the second as a different “sensual perspective.”

These two factors operative in homosexuals establish that we look at the world in a fundamentally different way than non-homosexuals. Walking into a candy store, 90 percent of the people gravitate toward a certain favorite, and evaluate and prioritize everything in the store from that standpoint. The 10 percent who prefer a different favorite accordingly look at everything in a different way.

Homosexuals can’t be conformists without trying very hard, and are never quite up to the task. A passion to conform is almost as bad as being in the closet. It is just not natural.

What is natural is for homosexuals is what I call “constructive non-conformity.” It could also be called “creative” or “compassionate” non-conformity, but “constructive” is preferred because it derives best from the notions of “gay sensibility” and “sensual perspective,” and also defines natural gay non-conformity against corruptions of that concept.

To be specific, “constructive non-conformity” is definitely not the kind of anarchistic, self-obsessed, destructive and power-centered notions of non-conformity defined by the Beat Generation and related radical hedonist currents that hijacked the gay movement in the aftermath of Stonewall. It is not the post-modernist ugliness exemplified by the theories and mandates of the contemptible Michel Foucault. Nor is it the so-called “queer theory” current that worships Foucault as some sort of saint, and thereby embraces his jaded, angry and cynical perspective on reality and behavior.

No, “constructive non-conformity” reflects the enduring contributions of many homosexuals in history, and while they can be awesomely camp and outrageous, as in the likes of a Liberace, “Birdcage” heroes or figure skater Johnny Weir, such non-conformists are constructive, life-affirming givers of love and compassion, just as was the remarkably non-conformist life of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Imagine Eleanor Roosevelt breaking from every convention by simultaneously redefining the accepted definitions of both a “first lady” and of a woman, in general. She guided her physically-disabled husband through the nation’s most trying times of depression and war, and emerged after his death to champion the most progressive achievement of the modern era, the Declaration of the International Rights of Man. Most historians declared her husband, FDR, the Man of the Century for the 20th century. I give it to her, hands down the Person of the Century. And she was one of us.

Conformity is the bane of our, or any, age. In our times, young people are tracked almost like chattel into social expectations that lock them, with few variations, into routinely mundane and mediocre lives to reinforce the powers that be. Not a totalitarian system, this is the norm for our democracy, and it is done through our ruling class’ vast resources of social engineering.

Boys play sports to ready themselves to fight and die in wars. Girls play with dolls and cheer boys on the sidelines of sporting events, groomed to comfort the fighting men and have their babies.

Alternatively, today’s young are groomed to attend college, become steeped in student loan debt, to find a job to pay it off, afford marriage, buy a house and have children. By their early 20s, they’re set in cement, locked in at an early age, with few inspired or motivated to buck the trend.

Televised sports, fantasy sports, sophomoric soap operas and other cultural drivel preoccupy them, leaving little time for anything original and creative. Meanwhile, American society drifts relentlessly to the right, toward indifference to the poor and paranoid about everything beyond its borders. So much for conformity.

It takes “constructive non-conformists” to alter such patterns for the betterment of us all, both by working individually with persons and with society as a whole. That means us.

(To be continued).